Theories of Motivation

Change Management and
People Performance
By Professor Simon Burtonshaw-Gunn – licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike License
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Theories of Motivation
1) Contribution of Robert Owen :
Though Owen is considered to be paternalistic in his view, his
contribution is of a considerable significance in the theories of
Motivation. During the early years of the nineteenth century, Owen’s
textile mill at New Lanark in Scotland was the scene of some novel
ways of treating people. His view was that people were similar to
machines. A machine that is looked after properly, cared for and
maintained well, performs efficiently, reliably and lastingly, similarly
people are likely to be more efficient if they are taken care of. Robert
Owen practiced what he preached and introduced such things as
employee housing and company shop. His ideas on this and other
matters were considered to be too revolutionary for that time.
2) Jeremy Bentham’s “The Carrot and the Stick Approach” :
Possibly the essence of the traditional view of people at work can be
best appreciated by a brief look at the work of this English
philosopher, whose ideas were also developed in the early years of the
Industrial Revolution, around 1800. Bentham’s view was that all
people are self-interested and are motivated by the desire to avoid
pain and find pleasure. Any worker will work only if the reward is big
enough, or the punishment sufficiently unpleasant. This view - the
‘carrot and stick’ approach - was built into the philosophies of the age
and is still to be found, especially in the older, more traditional sectors
of industry.
The various leading theories of motivation and motivators seldom
make reference to the carrot and the stick. This metaphor relates, of
course, to the use of rewards and penalties in order to induce desired
behaviour. It comes from the old story that to make a donkey move,
one must put a carrot in front of him or dab him with a stick from
behind. Despite all the research on the theories of motivation, reward
and punishment are still considered strong motivators. For centuries,
however, they were too often thought of as the only forces that could
motivate people.
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At the same time, in all theories of motivation, the inducements of
some kind of ‘carrot’ are recognized. Often this is money in the form of
pay or bonuses. Even though money is not the only motivating force, it
has been and will continue to be an important one. The trouble with
the money ‘carrot’ approach is that too often everyone gets a carrot,
regardless of performance through such practices as salary increase
and promotion by seniority, automatic ‘merit’ increases, and executive
bonuses not based on individual manager performance. It is as simple
as this: If a person put a donkey in a pen full of carrots and then stood
outside with a carrot, would the donkey be encouraged to come out of
the pen?
The ‘stick’, in the form of fear–fear of loss of job, loss of income,
reduction of bonus, demotion, or some other penalty–has been and
continues to be a strong motivator. Yet it is admittedly not the best
kind. It often gives rise to defensive or retaliatory behaviour, such as
union organization, poor-quality work, executive indifference, failure of
a manager to take any risks in decision making or even dishonesty.
But fear of penalty cannot be overlooked. Whether managers are firstlevel supervisors or chief executives, the power of their position to
give or with hold rewards or impose penalties of various kinds gives
them an ability to control, to a very great extent, the economic and
social well-being of their subordinates.
3) Abraham Maslow’s “Need Hierarchy Theory”:
One of the most widely mentioned theories of motivation is the
hierarchy of needs theory put forth by psychologist Abraham Maslow.
Maslow saw human needs in the form of a hierarchy, ascending from
the lowest to the highest, and he concluded that when one set of
needs is satisfied, this kind of need ceases to be a motivator.
As per his theory these needs are:
(i) Physiological needs:
These are important needs for sustaining the human life. Food, water,
warmth, shelter, sleep, medicine and education are the basic
physiological needs which fall in the primary list of need satisfaction.
Maslow was of an opinion that until these needs were satisfied to a
degree to maintain life, no other motivating factors can work.
(ii) Security or Safety needs:
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These are the needs to be free of physical danger and of the fear of
losing a job, property, food or shelter. It also includes protection
against any emotional harm.
(iii) Social needs:
Since people are social beings, they need to belong and be accepted
by others. People try to satisfy their need for affection, acceptance and
(iv) Esteem needs:
According to Maslow, once people begin to satisfy their need to belong,
they tend to want to be held in esteem both by themselves and by
others. This kind of need produces such satisfaction as power, prestige
status and self-confidence. It includes both internal esteem factors like
self-respect, autonomy and achievements and external esteem factors
such as states, recognition and attention.
(v) Need for self-actualization:
Maslow regards this as the highest need in his hierarchy. It is the drive
to become what one is capable of becoming; it includes growth,
achieving one’s potential and self-fulfilment. It is to maximize one’s
potential and to accomplish something.
As each of these needs are substantially satisfied, the next need
becomes dominant. From the standpoint of motivation, the theory
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would say that although no need is ever fully gratified, a substantially
satisfied need no longer motivates. So if you want to motivate
someone, you need to understand what level of the hierarchy that
person is on and focus on satisfying those needs or needs above that
Maslow’s need theory has received wide recognition, particularly
among practicing managers. This can be attributed to the theory’s
intuitive logic and ease of understanding. However, research does not
validate this theory. Maslow provided no empirical evidence and other
several studies that sought to validate the theory found no support for
4) “Theory X and Theory Y” of Douglas McGregor:
McGregor, in his book “The Human side of Enterprise” states that
people inside the organization can be managed in two ways. The first
is basically negative, which falls under the category X and the other is
basically positive, which falls under the category Y. After viewing the
way in which the manager dealt with employees, McGregor concluded
that a manager’s view of the nature of human beings is based on a
certain grouping of assumptions and that he or she tends to mould his
or her behaviour towards subordinates according to these
Under the assumptions of theory X:
Employees inherently do not like work and whenever possible,
will attempt to avoid it.
Because employees dislike work, they have to be forced, coerced
or threatened with punishment to achieve goals.
Employees avoid responsibilities and do not work fill formal
directions are issued.
Most workers place a greater importance on security over all
other factors and display little ambition.
In contrast under the assumptions of theory Y:
Physical and mental effort at work is as natural as rest or play.
People do exercise self-control and self-direction and if they are
committed to those goals.
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Average human beings are willing to take responsibility and
exercise imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving the
problems of the organization.
That the way the things are organized, the average human
being’s brainpower is only partly used.
On analysis of the assumptions it can be detected that theory X
assumes that lower-order needs dominate individuals and theory Y
assumes that higher-order needs dominate individuals. An
organization that is run on Theory X lines tends to be authoritarian in
nature, the word “authoritarian” suggests such ideas as the “power to
enforce obedience” and the “right to command.” In contrast Theory Y
organizations can be described as “participative”, where the aims of
the organization and of the individuals in it are integrated; individuals
can achieve their own goals best by directing their efforts towards the
success of the organization.
However, this theory has been criticized widely for generalization of
work and human behaviour.
5) Contribution of Rensis Likert:
Likert developed a refined classification, breaking down organizations
into four management systems.
1st System – Primitive authoritarian
2nd System – Benevolent authoritarian
3rd System – Consultative
4th System – Participative
As per the opinion of Likert, the 4th system is the best, not only for
profit organizations, but also for non-profit firms.
6) Frederick Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory:
Frederick has tried to modify Maslow’s need Hierarchy theory. His
theory is also known as two-factor theory or Hygiene theory. He stated
that there are certain satisfiers and dissatisfiers for employees at
work. In- trinsic factors are related to job satisfaction, while extrinsic
factors are associated with dissatisfaction. He devised his theory on
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the question: “What do people want from their jobs?” He asked people
to describe in detail, such situations when they felt exceptionally good
or exceptionally bad. From the responses that he received, he
concluded that opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction. Removing
dissatisfying characteristics from a job does not necessarily make the
job satisfying. He states that presence of certain factors in the
organization is natural and the presence of the same does not lead to
motivation. However, their nonpresence leads to demotivation. In
similar manner there are certain factors, the absence of which causes
no dissatisfaction, but their presence has motivational impact.
Examples of Hygiene factors are:
Security, status, relationship with subordinates, personal life, salary,
work conditions, relationship with supervisor and company policy and
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Examples of Motivational factors are:
Growth prospectus job advancement,
recognition and achievements.
7) Contributions of Elton Mayo:
The work of Elton Mayo is famously known as “Hawthorne
Experiments.” He conducted behavioural experiments at the
Hawthorne Works of the American Western Electric Company in
Chicago. He made some illumination experiments, introduced breaks in
between the work performance and also introduced refreshments
during the pauses. On the basis of this he drew the conclusions that
motivation was a very complex subject. It was not only about pay,
work condition and morale but also included psychological and social
factors. Although this research has been criticized from many angles,
the central conclusions drawn were:
People are motivated by more than pay and conditions.
The need for recognition and a sense of belonging are very
Attitudes towards work are strongly influenced by the group.
8) Vroom’s Valence x Expectancy theory:
The most widely accepted an explanation of motivation has been
propounded by Victor Vroom. His theory is commonly known as
expectancy theory. The theory argues that the strength of a tendency
to act in a specific way depends on the strength of an expectation that
the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness
of that outcome to the individual to make this simple, expectancy
theory says that an employee can be motivated to perform better
when their is a belief that the better performance will lead to good
performance appraisal and that this shall result into realization of
personal goal in form of some reward. Therefore an employee is:
Motivation = Valence x Expectancy.
The theory focuses on three things:
Efforts and performance relationship
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Performance and reward relationship
Rewards and personal goal relationship
This leads us to a conclusion that:
9) The Porter and Lawler Model:
Lyman W. Porter and Edward E. Lawler developed a more complete
version of motivation depending upon expectancy theory.
Actual performance in a job is primarily determined by the effort
spent. But it is also affected by the person’s ability to do the job and
also by individual’s perception of what the required task is. So
performance is the responsible factor that leads to intrinsic as well as
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extrinsic rewards. These rewards, along with the equity of individual
leads to satisfaction. Hence, satisfaction of the individual depends
upon the fairness of the reward.
10) Clayton Alderfer’s ERG Theory:
Alderfer has tried to rebuild the hierarchy of needs of Maslow into
another model named ERG i.e. Existence – Relatedness – Growth.
According to him there are 3 groups of core needs as mentioned
above. The existence group is concerned mainly with providing basic
material existence. The second group is the individuals need to
maintain interpersonal relationship with other members in the group.
The final group is the intrinsic desire to grow and develop personally.
The major conclusions of this theory are:
1. In an individual, more than one need may be operative at the
same time.
2. If a higher need goes unsatisfied than the desire to satisfy a
lower need intensifies.
3. It also contains the frustration-regression dimension.
11) McClelland’s Theory of Needs:
David McClelland has developed a theory on three types of motivating
Need for Power
Need for Affiliation
Need for Achievement
Basically people for high need for power are inclined towards influence
and control. They like to be at the centre and are good orators. They
are demanding in nature, forceful in manners and ambitious in life.
They can be motivated to perform if they are given key positions or
power positions.
In the second category are the people who are social in nature. They
try to affiliate themselves with individuals and groups. They are driven
by love and faith. They like to build a friendly environment around
themselves. Social recognition and affiliation with others provides
them motivation.
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People in the third area are driven by the challenge of success and the
fear of failure. Their need for achievement is moderate and they set
for themselves moderately difficult tasks. They are analytical in nature
and take calculated risks. Such people are motivated to perform when
they see at least some chances of success.
McClelland observed that with the advancement in hierarchy the need
for power and achievement increased rather than Affiliation. He also
observed that people who were at the top, later ceased to be
motivated by this drives.
12) Equity Theory:
As per the equity theory of J. Stacey Adams, people are motivated by
their beliefs about the reward structure as being fair or unfair, relative
to the inputs. People have a tendency to use subjective judgment to
balance the outcomes and inputs in the relationship for comparisons
between different individuals. Accordingly:
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If people feel that they are not equally rewarded they either reduce
the quantity or quality of work or migrate to some other organization.
However, if people perceive that they are rewarded higher, they may
be motivated to work harder.
13) Reinforcement Theory:
B.F. Skinner, who propounded the reinforcement theory, holds that by
designing the environment properly, individuals can be motivated.
Instead of considering internal factors like impressions, feelings,
attitudes and other cognitive behaviour, individuals are directed by
what happens in the environment external to them. Skinner states
that work environment should be made suitable to the individuals and
that punishment actually leads to frustration and de-motivation.
Hence, the only way to motivate is to keep on making positive changes
in the external environment of the organization.
14) Goal Setting Theory of Edwin Locke:
Instead of giving vague tasks to people, specific and pronounced
objectives, help in achieving them faster. As the clarity is high, a goal
orientation also avoids any misunderstandings in the work of the
employees. The goal setting theory states that when the goals to be
achieved are set at a higher standard than in that case employees are
motivated to perform better and put in maximum effort. It revolves
around the concept of “Self-efficacy” i.e. individual’s belief that he or
she is capable of performing a hard task.
15) Cognitive Evaluation Theory:
As per this theory a shift from external rewards to internal rewards
results into motivation. It believes that even after the stoppage of
external stimulus, internal stimulus survives. It relates to the pay
structure in the organization. Instead of treating external factors like
pay, incentives, promotion etc and internal factors like interests,
drives, responsibility etc, separately, they should be treated as
contemporary to each other. The cognition is to be such that even
when external motivators are not there the internal motivation
continues. However, practically extrinsic rewards are given much more
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